It is a fundamental principle of Scriptural interpretation that whenever God's Word speaks plainly and emphatically on any subject that obscure passages which treat of the same theme must be explained in accord with those passages about which there is no dubiety. For example, when we hear our Lord saying "My sheep shall never perish" etc. then we know that in such passages as those of Hebrews 6 and 10, which treat of the irrecoverable doom of apostates, the apostle must have had before him professors and not persons who had been born again. In like manner when we find a passage which appears to bear upon the Rapture and which is in anywise ambiguous then we must not make it teach that which would conflict with other passages which deal with the Blessed Hope and which are plain and positive.
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (Phil.3:10, 11). These words, "If by any means I might attain unto the out-resurrection from among the dead" (Greek) are understood by partial-rapturists to refer to a select resurrection from among the dead at the time of our Lord's Return, and hence, they conclude that as the resurrection here referred to is spoken of as a matter of attainment, then, only a select company of believers will participate therein. But let us ask the question, Does the apostle here refer to a physical resurrection? In the New Testament the terms "death" and "resurrection" have a fourfold scope, viz: -- physical death and resurrection, spiritual death and resurrection, judicial death and resurrection, and experimental death and resurrection. We need not submit proof texts for the first, but we will do so with reference to the last three.
In John 5:24-26 we read, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself." Now the words "death" and "life" in this passage can only refer to spiritual death, spiritual life, and spiritual resurrection -- "passed from death unto life." By nature we are spiritually dead -- "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph.2:1), but by the new birth we pass from death unto life. Regeneration is therefore a spiritual resurrection.
Further. In Rom.6:2 we read, "How shall we that died to sin (Greek), live any longer therein? and in Col.3:1 -- "If then ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above." These two verses refer to the believer's judicial death and resurrection. This side of the truth is little known or understood, but we cannot now dwell upon it at any length. One word sums it all up -- identification. On the Cross there was a double identification -- all believers understand the first side of it, but few are clear upon the second. In the reckoning of God and in the eye of the Law Christ was identified with us as lost sinners. He took our place and bore our sins. He endured the full penalty of the broken law in our stead. But further, (and it is deeply important that we should apprehend this) in the reckoning of God and in the eye of the Law all believers were identified with Christ. Hence, every believer can say "I was crucified (Greek) with Christ" (Gal.2:20). In the sight of God I died on the Cross because Christ hung there as my substitute and what a substitute does or suffers is imputed to the account of the one on whose behalf he is acting. Hence, we repeat, in God's sight, when Christ died I died, "died to sin," died to the law, died to the world, died to everything that had to do with my old standing in Adam.
But further still. Death did not retain Christ. He rose again, and in the reckoning of God I rose too, for all believers were identified (reckoned one with) with Christ in His resurrection, so that it is written, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins (spiritually, and therefore, judicially), hath quickened (made alive) us together with Christ" (Eph.2:4, 9). It is not our individual spiritual quickening (the new birth) that is here in view, but our judicial identification with Christ -- "together with Christ." The next verse goes farther still and informs us that, in the reckoning of God, all believers were identified with Christ in His ascension -- "And hath raised us up together (Christ and His people), and made us sit together in the Heavenlies (Greek) in Christ Jesus." Observe that this is "in Christ Jesus" which refers to our position before God (compare "in Christ Jesus" Rom.8:1) and is not at all a question of experience or attainment. We are now prepared to consider the fourth aspect of "death" and "resurrection."
Every believer in Christ has "died to sin," died judicially not experimentally, died in the sight of God because he was "crucified with Christ." Here then is where faith comes in. God says I am"dead to sin" (Rom.6:2), but "I don't feed dead to sin: my experience shows me otherwise" says one. Beloved, it is not a question of "feelings" or "experience" but of believing the testimony of God. Hear Him: "Reckon ye also yourselves to have died indeed unto sin (Greek) and to be alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom.6:11). Here then is the experimental death and resurrection. By faith I am to translate into my practical life what is true of me judicially. Believing God's Word which tells me I have died unto sin and that I am alive unto God through (or rather "IN") Jesus Christ our Lord, I am now to live in the realization and power of that truth. This is what the apostle had reference to when he said, "Mortify(put to death) therefore your members which are upon the earth" (Col.3:5): the "therefore" looking back to the previous verses where he had been discussing the believer's judicial death and resurrection. It was as though he said, See to it that your practical state corresponds with the standing which you have before God "in Christ."
Returning now to Philippians 3. Here Paul is speaking of "resurrection" but, as we have seen, the New Testament treats of four different orders of resurrection, to which of them then is the apostle here referring? Is he here speaking of physical resurrection, spiritual resurrection, judicial resurrection, or experimental resurrection? The context must decide. A close reading of the entire passage will make it evident that it is experimental resurrection which the apostle had before him. The whole passage refers to his practical experience and is a biographical amplification of Romans 6:11. Beginning at the seventh verse he says -- "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things (how evident it is that the apostle is here recounting a practical experience!), and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know Him (the Greek word here is "ginosko" and means know intimately), and the power of His resurrection" (verses 3 to 10). The apostle yearned to live as one who had been raised from the dead. He longed to walk in "newness of life." He desired that he should no longer "serve sin." And the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." The apostle longed to tread the same path his Lord had trod, to be baptized with the baptism He had been baptized with, and to drink of the cup which He drank (Mark.10:38, 39).
"If by any means I might attain unto the out-resurrection from among the dead" (Phil.3:11), that is, if, by any means I might experience the full and blessed effects of complying completely with the terms of Rom.6:11 -- reckon myself indeed to have died unto sin and be alive unto God. The apostle longed to apprehend or lay hold of that for which he had been apprehended, namely, to be "conformed to the image of God's Son." What he desired above every thing else for himself, was that he might realize practically in his daily life, that which was true of him judicially in regard to his standing before God. But had the apostle fully achieved his ambition? Had he arrived at the place where he was now beyond the reach of the lusts of the "old man"? Did he never yield to temptation? Was he delivered from the very presence of sin? Nay, verily. The language of the next verse is very emphatic -- "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect" (vs.12). Here is proof positive that in the previous verse the apostle was not writing about a future resurrection of the body, for if participation in the first resurrection (or of an eclectic resurrection at the return of Christ) is the reward for a life of exceptional spirituality, the apostle here acknowledges that he himself did not measure up to the required standard -- and if he did not, who has? No, this passage proves too much for the partial-rapturist, for in making the resurrection of believers a matter of spiritual attainment he excludes the Apostle Paul himself! It should be evident that the apostle is here referring to an experimental resurrection, something which had to do with his practical everyday life. Someone once said to an Irish brother, "Pat, you are dead to sin: Your old man was crucified with Christ." "Yes," was the reply "but, I'm frequently troubled with my ghost." Says the apostle, "I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind (his successes and his failures; his attainments and his sins), and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark (goal) for the prize of the high calling (or "vocation") of God in Christ" (vss.13, 14). A further word on this last verse.
Note the apostle speaks of "the prize of the high calling" which is quite distinct from the "high-calling" itself. The "high-calling of God in Christ Jesus" is the judicial position which is occupied by every believer. It is to this the apostle referred when he said, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation(the "high-calling") wherewith ye are called"(Eph.4:1), and for those who do "walk worthy" there is a "prize." Did the apostle succeed in winning it? We certainly believe so.2 Tim.4 is the SEQUEL toPhil.3! Listen to the beloved apostle as he has arrived at the close of his earthly pilgrimage -- "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness (the "prize" he so earnestly coveted), which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (2 Tim 4:6-8). May grace be given both reader and writer to fight the good fight of faith, to finish our course with joy, and to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.